This Christmas, Aaron and I decided to stay home. We haven’t had much time lately to spend in the house and, tired of work and travel, thought this would be the best way to enjoy the holidays. I wanted to create a homey and festive atmosphere and one childhood memory kept coming back to me.
Back in Bulgaria, every year around Christmas and New Year, my mom used to make huge amounts of flavorful cookies covered in sugar and filled with nuts and Turkish delight. The long hours spent cracking the walnuts and rolling dozens of little pieces in powdered sugar and the vanilla that filled the air in the process had become to symbolize the beginning of the holiday season. The cookies lasted for weeks but every little bit tasted as delicious, if not more, as the previous one. I had to make them too.
I got my mom’s recipe and it looked really simple. I too, decided to make a lot so I can bring to parties and give away.
Not surprisingly, at a gathering with my Bulgarian friends, just the sight of the cookies was enough to elicit lots of memories and stories. Apparently every Bulgarian family had some version of these cookies, which my mom calls “little cigars” although they look a lot more like little crescents. Needless to say, everyone enjoyed them and asked me for the recipe.
A bit more surprising I found it that my Moldovan friends recognized the “little cigars” right away too, and, filled with sweet nostalgia, finished the box I took to another party in no time.
I was most intrigued, though, when a Mexican lady looked at them and exclaimed “Ah, those are Mexican wedding cookies”. Turns out, that cookies with very similar appearance but also ingredients (flour, lard, wine, sugar and nuts), are traditionally prepared for wedding celebrations in Mexico. Isn’t it amazing how food traditions make their way around the world?
I wonder where the little powdered crescents originated. What other countries have adopted them and what celebrations they typically prepare them for. Let me know if you know their story.
But even if you don’t, try the recipe below at your next party. My mom’s “little cigars” will not only bring a touch of old fashioned festivity but are sure to start a conversation.
Holiday Cookies from Home
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 cups lard (Sold in your local grocery store in a shelf stable package where shortening is sold. The brand I buy is Armour)
- 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar (divided)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Flour – as much as it absorbs for medium-hard dough (I used 3 and 1/2 cups)
- 1 small or medium box Turkish delight (Sold in Middle Eastern or international food stores. My favorite flavor is the classic rose.) Cut each piece into 4-5 smaller rectangular pieces.
- 1 to 2 cups walnut or pecan quarters
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place a cup of flour on the bottom of a mixing bowl. Create a “well” in the flour and add lard. Add ½ cup powdered sugar, wine and vanilla. Mix well (with your hands) adding flour as needed, until dough is semi-hard. It should be slightly crumbly. Divide into two balls. Roll each ball into a circle to about less than a ¼ inch thick. Cut triangles (base about 3 inches wide). Place a small piece of Turkish delight and a pecan quarter towards the bottom of each triangle. Roll into crescents. Makes about 60 cookies.
Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake until just slightly golden (15-20 min.). Roll crescents in a bowl of powdered sugar while still warm (so the sugar sticks better), but not hot (so it doesn’t melt).